What I Meant to Say: Better Together

At yesterday’s service I publically processed some of my thoughts from the Global Vineyard Conference, how it impacted me personally and how I think it will impact the congregation. My reflection largely revolved around the issue of family. I wanted to reformulate those thoughts into a more coherent message for our family, thus this post. 

The Father and His Family

When Jesus came to the earth, he primarily revealed God as Father. We see the theme of “God as Father” in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it is rather minor and easily overshadowed by the others names/revelations of God. Jesus isolates and elevates this understanding of God, making it the basis of his ministry. He cemented this foundational understanding of how we are supposed to interact with God when he taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father…”

For a large number of us, the word “father” does not conjure up a joyous, virile and empowering image. Rather, it awakens in us a deep sadness, longing and even fear. Too many of us have had fathers who were absent, distant, abusive, cruel, disinterested, addicted, impotent or controling. Even those of us whose relationships with our dads are relatively healthy and intact still feel a gnawing emptiness, as though they were not all they were inteded to be. Very few are those who enter adulthood with a strong sense of what a father should be – an image to aspire to if one is male or someone to look for if female. Most of us are limping along, trying to do the best we can.

Therefore, when Jesus teaches us to relate to God primarily as a father, as THE Father, it is understandable that we have issues. It is all too easy to project onto God the faults and failings of our earthly dads and not look at it the other way – that God is the One who defines Fatherhood and that our dads were the ones who fell short. God is a Good Father, the Perfect Father – never cruel or manipulative, never controling or unjust. Because God can only give what he has, James (the half-brother of Jesus) declares that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Heavenly Lights.” Pretty amazing really… if something isn’t good or perfect then it isn’t from God.

If God is a Father, then we (his children) are a family. John the Apostle says that “to everyone who receives Christ, he gives the right to be reborn children of God.” As Christians, we have been adopted into the family of God – God is our Father, Jesus our Elder Brother and the rest of us siblings together. 

Life Together

I am going to hazard a guess that when Jesus prayed in the Garden, “Father, I want them to be one as you and I are one (John 17:21)” he wasn’t envisioning a suburban middle class lifestyle where we all live in seperate houses and only see each other once or twice a week. Instead, I think he was describing a heart posture of longing and delight that would have a profound effect on our lifestyle. I think he was envisioning a family – a family of God where every dividing wall of gender, race and economics is torn down and we all worship before the Throne singing “Worthy is the Lamb because you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God people from every tribe and language, people and nation. You have made us a kingdom, and priests to serve our God…”

“You have made us a kingdom…” This family is also a Kingdom, a group of people who have sworn allegience to a King and who are committed to obeying him wherever they happen to currently live on the earth. This bond of obedience, of wanting to hear God and obey him, is stronger than any earthly bond (Luke 8). The Blood of the Lamb is thicker than the blood of this world and our connection to God through Jesus is more certain, more sure and more lasting than anything this world can provide. One day this world will burn away, yet the family of God, the Kingdom of God, remains.

 Life in the Kingdom is simple. We eat together around a table. We work together. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. We create and we party. We serve and we enjoy. We love deeply and well and we clean up our messes. Most of us do this with our biological/adoptive families, why wouldn’t we do it in Church?

For too long we have confused the American Dream of upward mobility and ever increasing possessions with the Kingdom of God. The two are not the same. I think we are due for another Reformation, another way of “doing church” that will recenter our attention on the issues of family and Father. At least, that is what I see for our congregation. Going forward, I think we will have a much more deliberate emphasis on knitting ourselves together into a family through small groups and other events. I forsee a large number of campire conversations and poutlucks in our future. 

Cheers! 

My Spanking from Romans

By means of preface, this post is for me and for those of you who have read and agreed with my general premise in these last two posts. 

Morning Devotions

As I sat down to read this morning, I felt like I should go to Romans. At first I resisted, thinking I had spent too much time blogging and needed some better perspective. The urge persisted, so I grabbed my coffee and sat in my favorite chair.

I opened to Romans 1 and, as you might expect, felt a mixture of peace/vindication. “OK, I’m really not crazy. This really is clear.” Then I got to Romans 2:1-8, emphasis mine:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things (the things referenced in Romans 1:18-32) is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgement on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” 

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of his wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

That was a Holy Spirit gut punch this morning. I’d like to share with you some of my processing.

First, the words of Jesus to the men wanting to stone the adulteress woman, “Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone.” The only person qualified to pass judgment on sexual immorality is the one who is not sexually immoral. Now Paul just declared that sexual immorality is sin deserving of punishment, so I don’t think stating those truths and telling people what God says about something is passing judgment. “Passing judgment” is, I believe, when we take upon ourselves the duty and desire to punish people for their sin.

We are currently living in what Jesus called “the favorable year of the Lord,” the time when “all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” and when Jesus says to sinners “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”  So, as those called to carry on the message and ministry of Jesus, we are called to acknowledge that people are sinners AND declare to them the Gospel, the path to forgiveness through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Whether they choose to “go and sin no more” is ultimately up to them – our job is to declare to people what God says about sin, try to help them see their need for a Savior, declare to them the Good News of Jesus and help them mature as disciples if that is the route they choose to take. We warn but we do not punish.

Jesus and Paul also acknowledged that this extended season of God’s favor would end and that there would be “the great and terrible Day of the Lord,” “the Day of vengence of our God,” “the Day when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” This Day is a short season where we see things as they truly are – sin is punished and righteousness rewarded. We aren’t there yet and when we do get there, it will be God doing the judging, not us.

Where I get to eat a large slice of humble pie is when Paul talks to the Romans about condemning sin while doing the same things they condemn. I’ve never had sex with another guy, but I have been addicted to porn. And while that addiction has largely been defeated, it still resurfaces from time to time. The point is, there is still a large portion of my heart that has yet to submit to Jesus. I am not a finished project, netiher are you, and neither are the other people in our lives. Recognizing this, and being open about my own failing, helps me to walk a little softer and speak a little gentler. 

What I don’t want is what Paul calls “a stubborn and unrepentant heart” that stores up judgment for itself. I never want to be so caught up in my own self-righteousness that I think I’m the only one who is right and everyone else is wrong. I want to be constantly realigning my heart to the Truth of God’s word. I don’t just want to read the Word, I want the Word to read me, like it did this morning.

Who is the better friend? 

As I was processing these things and debating wether or not to change or retract anything I’ve said these last few days, I felt like Holy Spirit gave me a picture/parable and it helped settle things for me.

Imagine someone comes to you holding out a pill and says “Take this, exercise your freedom, live a little – it will feel great.”

And then another person, overhearing this, turns and says to you, “You can do whatever you want, but just so you know, everything I’ve read says that, if you swallow that pill, there is at least a 50% chance it will kill you.”

I’m not perfect. I have flaws and failings that I try to be very open about. But I don’t think that disqualifies me from sharing with them what I believe to be the truth. 

Interacting with Different Worldviews

As I continue to watch and listen to people discuss the Supreme Court’s ruling, it appears that there are at least two fundamentally different worldviews at work. One group believes the LGTBQ community is a healthy expression of human sexuality and another group does not. Not surprisingly, those two different starting places lead to different conclusions. As I continue to talk with people and try to understand how they get to their own conclusions I have the feeling we are talking past one another – using the same words but in different ways. So today’s post is mostly for me. I’m trying to articulate what I hear each side saying. I want to represent each side accurately, but I know I can’t. Because I’m not in the group that believes LGBTQ expression is what God intended I cannot really portray their thoughts as accurately or with the level of passion they obviously have. So, I appeal to any readers out there who do share that opinion to correct or expand on anything I say here. 

What I think I hear you saying…

What I think I hear the LGTBQ community saying (along with those straight people who share their worldview) is that they are not broken and don’t need fixing. They believe their lifestyle/orientation/expression, willingly chosen or genetically predeterminded, is healthy, valid and viable. And, as human beings, they expect to be treated as such. As citizens of the United States they expect to receive the rights, benefits and privileges afforded by the Constitution. (I don’t disagree with these last two statements by the way.)

What I think I hear the LGBTQ Christian community saying is that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross secured for all people the eternal love of God. I think I hear the LGBTQ Christian community defining love as complete and total acceptance – as in “God already loves me just the way I am. I don’t need to change in order to get God to love me, because God already accepts me completely.” Additionally, the LGBTQ community does not see LGBTQ reltionships as sexual immorality because these relationships are committed, consentual and long term. They understand the sexual purity laws on the Bible (especially the Old Testament) to be particular to that culture and mindset, a product of that era’s understanding of the way the world worked. And since, for instance, these same people thought the sun revolved around the earth, there is a reasonable justification for believing that the Biblical writers may have gotten this issue wrong as well. What God was really against, what sexual immorality is really about, is the abusive power dynamics between men and women propagated by a patriarchal system.

It seems to me that the LGBTQ Christian community emphasizes Jesus’s aceptance of the outsider, his desire to break down every dividing wall, his grace secured by his sacrifice and his commandments to love. As I understand it, for the LGBTQ Christian community, being a Christian is primarily about loving people. And, as stated above, that means accepting and celebrating people as they are without feeling the need to change them.

The other word I hear the LGBTQ Christian community use a lot is grace. I have not yet been able to solidify what I think they are saying when they use that word – this is where I could really use some help from those of you in this camp. When I get a better definition I will replace this paragraph with your words. 

Here is what I think you are saying: 

  • “You need to have grace for that person” sounds to me like “If you don’t agree with them, keep it to yourself because there is always the chance you could be wrong. Give them the benefit of the doubt.”
  • “God is a God of Grace” sounds to me like “God primarily cares about how I treat other people. My personal, private lifestyle is largely inconsequential long as I am pursuing justice in society and extending unconditional acceptance (love) to others.”

Again, this is how these things sound to me when I hear them, this is what I think you are saying – I can obviously be mistaken. I hope that was a fair articulation of this particular worldview.

Where I am coming from

I’m going to intentionally limit this section to my own understanding and beliefs, I’m not  going to try and speak for a group. Also, for the sake of brevity and not coming off like a total Bible thumping prick, I’m not going to include specific Bible verses in this post. If you would like to know the verses that have led me to a particular conclusion, please ask.

My understanding of the world goes something like this: I believe we live in a fallen and broken world. I believe that when Adam and Eve chose to align with the serpent and rebel against God, sin entered the human race and corrupted us, even to the level of our DNA. The world we see with our eyes is not the world God intended to make, but we were not abandoned as a hopeless cause – rather, when God saw that humanity was corrupted, that every inclination of our heart was only evil, even from birth, he chose to set in motion a plan of redemption and salvation, a plan that would recreate the human race, a plan that would bring us out of darkness and death and into eternal light and life.

In order to fully accomplish the salvation of the human race, God had to fully condemn and destroy Sin – that quality in the human heart that inclines us to actively rebel against God and pursue our own desires in direct opposition to God’s commands. In essence, Sin is the desire to rule over our own kingdom, to do what is right in our own eyes, and to not submit to God. In order to show us how far we had fallen, what life was supposed to be like and how we should navigate life in this Sin-full world, God gave the Law. The Law’s first intent was to get us to realize how far we had strayed from God’s original intentions, how far we had fallen short, and how much we were in need of a savior. The Law’s second, and more profound, purpose was to reveal to us the character of the God we serve and what life in his Kingdom is like. But the Law’s second purpose was hidden from our sight until the Savior came and opened our eyes to the Truth by accurately representing God’s character.

God had to condemn and destroy Sin or else humanity would self-destruct and life on earth would be a perpetual hell of selfishness, violence and slavery. So, while God desired to destroy Sin, he wanted to save those enslaved to it. The only way this could be accomplished was if a perfect, undefiled, Sin-less person voluntarily offered themselves as a sacrificial substitute – for only someone in complete submission to God and blameless before the Law could present themselves to God as a second Adam, a new father for the human race. Because no human being was found who could fulfill the Law’s righteous decrees, God sent Himself – Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity – to earth to become a human being. Not only did Jesus show us what God was like, he showed us what WE were supposed to be like, and when he offered himself as the Lamb of God to take away the Sin of the world, when he offered hmself as the second Adam, he bore the sins of the first Adam, and all his descendents, to the grave. In Jesus, God was able to fully condemn Sin and punish it the way it deserved. The wrath Jesus bore, the atonement he made on our behalf, allowed us to be reconciled to God – even more, it allowed us to be reborn as children of God, re-created in his image.

So when I think of love, I think of a God who suffered in our place so that he could remove our rebellious tendencies and transform us into his character and likeness. For me, love is transforrmative. We are not changed so THAT God can love us, we are changed BECAUSE he loves us. God certainly accepted us where we were on our journey, but he didn’t want us to stay there. And knowing that even after our rebirth we would still find it difficult to live the life he calls us to, God gave us the gift of grace, the Holy Spirit, the divine empowerment to do what we could not do before – to live in harmony and peace with God and one another in obedience to his commands.

I believe that LGBTQ is one way Sin manifests in a fallen creation and the manifestation only concerns me because I believe it reveals that  Sin is still present in someone’s life. 

And the truth is, Sin is still very much present in my life. I am not, in any way, trying to imply that I stand apart from or above the LGBTQ community – I stand with them as a Sinner in need of a Savior. Indeed, I am painfully aware of my own shortcomings and insufficiencies and I commiserate with Paul in Romans 7 when he says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I don’t do, but I do what I hate. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” 

For me it all comes down to heart posture. Regardless of how Sin manifests in your life, do you “agree that [God’s] law is good” and are you fighting again Sin? Are you living the tortured existance Paul describes here, wanting to do what is good and right and pleasing in God’s eyes and yet failing to do so? Does the presence of continued Sin in your life disturb you and grieve you, so much so that you would call yourself wretched as Paul does? Or, are you indifferent? Do you say that God’s law is not good and not worth following? Do you say “God loves me regardless of what I do” and in doing so dismiss the sacrifice of Jesus and how much it cost God to love you in that way?

I hate the fact that I Sin. I hate that there is this creature living inside of me that takes over and speaks words of hate and anger and does things I’m ashamed of. And I’m distressed that it seems to happen all the more as I desire to draw close to God. I know that I am loved and accepted, I know that I can come with confidence before the Throne – I also know that my sins grieve the One I love and that I am on a constant journey of refinement where everything that is not of God and not of me is slowly being stripped away. 

In closing I will reiterate that these are my beliefs and my understanding of things. I will also acknowledge that many people I love, trust and respect look at the same Bible as I do and see things completely differently. I admit that I can’t understand how they arrive at their conclusions when my own views seem so compelling and comprehensive, but I am also aware that loving relationships are built on our choice to respect and honor one another and not on our agreement on certain issues.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read this and I look forward to hearing from you.

Ben